Posts > News, Sewing, How To > July 19, 2014

useful, geeky sewing techniques explained on this simple summer dress

making a simple cotton dress reminded me of just how important some of those little nerdy sewing techniques can be…

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After recently moving house, it was beginning to feel like all my sewing was for my new home, cushions, blinds, curtains …


IMG 2962 IMG 2964 IMG 2968…and then there’s the aeroplane seat project for my Dad

(but that’s a whole other story!)

Watch this space for details on renovating old leather soon…

IMG 2839So I felt I bit of ‘me-sewing’ was needed. I really love this colourful, dotty Irene and Lewis cotton fabric from the-stitchery and decided it would be perfect for a dress to wear in the shop.

Tiny bit retro (a hint of 40’s influence with that shoulder yoke maybe?) and very simple design lines – after all the fabric is doing all the talking (or is that shouting?)


IMG 2851After cutting out and marking up all the key patterns points with tailors tacks, the first important technique here is…


I know lots of sewists who will ignore this little step, thinking that it doesn’t matter, and perhaps their fabric or the garment they’re making is forgiving enough to skip it, but I say DON’T !

Stay stitching is a single line of stitching, through one layer of fabric, 1.3cms from the cut edge (so it won’t show on the finished garment). It helps to stabilise the fabric, preventing it from becoming stretched or distorted. Use this simple and quick technique on the edge of fabric pieces that have a bias cut which might allow the fabric to become distorted. Stay stitching eliminates problems later where collars, facings and other pieces of the pattern fit together.

IMG 3090So, for this dress, I stay-stitched the back neck of the bodice, the neck edge of the yoke and the wrap neck of the front bodice piece;

this took all of 5 mins and will have helped to give a lovely, clean, unstretched neckline later.

after that initial key step the order of work followed thus…


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Join Yoke to Front Bodice:

make gathering stitches on the front bodice at the top yoke edge (and at the lower midriff band edge for later)



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Then, right sides together, stitch the yoke to the front bodice, gathering to fit.

Press seam up towards the yoke and neaten the raw edge. Edge stitch on right side.


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Join Front & Back Bodice at Shoulder & Sides:

Right sides together, stitch shoulders, press seams open & neaten.

Repeat at side bodice seams. Bodice is now on one piece with neck edge is ready to be faced.

IMG 2896IMG 2895Facing: Interface the 4 facing pieces. Stitch facings together at shoulders. Press seam open, but do not neaten. Edge finish outside (not neck edge) of facing pieces

Join Facing to Bodice: match centre fronts and backs as well as shoulder seams,


OK so second important technique coming up…


I never used to quite get this technique and so did do not use it for ages, but when you work it out, it’s brilliant and really, really makes a difference to the look of a garment!

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Firstly, as there are now 4 plies of fabric inside that facing seam, layering (trimming) is required to stop them all ending in one bulky lump.

Also clip into any curved sections to help the facing lie flat. Don’t press until you have the facing edge turned right out. Use the very tip of the iron to work the facing open.

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Now for the magic understitching! Press the facing away from the garment, press the layered seam allowances towards the facing. Facing side up, stitch through the two seam allowances and the facing, not though the garment. This understitching should only be max 1 or 2mm from the seam.

Understitching is a highly effective technique that prevents linings and facings from rolling out to show on the right side of a garment. Best of all, understitching is quick to do and once mastered, results in an effortlessly professional finish!

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Here’s how it looks when complete – neat line of stitching on the inside, nothing on the outside and no facing rolling round ruining the crisp neckline.

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So let’s fast forward to rest of the dress.

Make up the Side Belts: right sides together, stitch, layer seams, trim points and bag out

Press and edge stitch.


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Midriff: Interface the midriff front and back pieces, join at sides seams, including Belt. Press open.

Join midriff to (wrapped) bodices, matching centre fronts and backs as well as side seams, gathering bodice under the bust to fit.

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Join midriff facing over the same seam.

Layer seam allowances and press down.

Top-stitch top line of midriff band on right side for a crisp finish (avoid belt).


IMG 2916 IMG 2917Make up Skirt: Stitch centre back seams leaving gap for zip.Stitch side seams. Press seams open and neaten.

Join Skirt to Midriff. Layer and press seam up into midriff band, Press midriff facing under and now this is loveliest, most simple couture-style technique that I use again and again…

handstitch, picking up every machine stitch

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the photos explain it best, such a neat finish and a very simple process.

Pin and hand sew, pick every machine stitch

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So here’s the dress so far, just the zip, sleeves, and hem left to do

Insert Centre Back Zip:

sorry no pics here at all!


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Sleeves: as these are half sleeves, press & hem first, work gathers at sleeve head, pin & join. Press seam allowance into dress and trim.

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Cut crossway strips.

Join crossway strips to form bias binding.

Press in half and then press raw edges to centre.


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Pin, then stitch bias binding just under 1.5cms from seam allowance to sleeve head seam and continue around remaining armhole.

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Use the previous hand stitching technique again to pick up every machine stitch, press binding down at armhole so that it forms a facing and topstitch

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Mark and stitch hem.





IMG 3086IMG 3035et voila !

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